"Vague to convey my meaning" or "too vague to convey my meaning"

5

1

I wrote:

It seems my words were too vague to convey my meaning.

What if I write it as:

It seems my words were vague to convey my meaning.

Is it yet correct? What's their difference?

Ahmad

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 8 443

1"How about if I write it as ...." or "What if I write it as ....? – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2017-01-13T21:11:51.510

Answers

8

The word too is a deictic degree adverb. These kinds of adverbs usually modify adjectives or other adverbs. In the following examples, the word too is represented by X:

  • It's X hot in here.
  • This hat is X big.
  • You are walking X fast.

X here represents the extent (or the "degree") of the hotness, the bigness and the fastness in the sentences above. In other words it represents how hot it was, how big the hat is and how fast the person is walking. Notice that it doesn't give us exact information. We don't know the temperature in the room, the exact size of the hat, or the exact speed that the person is walking. When we use the adverb too like this we understand that the extent causes some kind of problem. So it is so hot that it is a problem, the hat is so big that there is a problem. The person is walking so fast that there is a problem. We have an idea about how hot, big or fast the thing is from the context.

However, deictic degree adverbs like this can also sometimes take a clause. This clause works as a semantic index. It tells us the extent or degree represented by the adverb.

  • It was so hot [that I fainted].
  • She was that late [that we had to cancel the appointment].

In the sentences above, we understand the extent of the hotness because we understand that it caused me to faint. In the second sentence we understand the extent of the lateness because it caused them to cancel their appointment.

The adverb too can also take a clause as a semantic index. This clause shows something that can't happen—or didn't happen, or won't happen—because of the extent involved:

  • The piano was too heavy [(for us) to carry].

In the sentence above, we understand how heavy the piano was because of the clause at the end of the sentence. It was so heavy that it prevented us from carrying it.

The Original Poster's question

It seems my words were too vague [to convey my meaning].

In the sentence above, the clause in brackets, [ ], tells us how vague the words were. They were so vague that this prevented them from conveying the author's meaning.

Now this clause at the end is a(n indirect) Complement of the word too. This means that the word too creates a special slot, a special space, for this clause at the end of the sentence. The purpose of the clause at the end is to provide the semantic index so that we understand how vague the words were. If we take the word too away, we don't have any special reason to use the clause at the end any more. For this reason, the following sentence does not work well:

It seems my words were vague [to convey my meaning].


Grammar Note

This could be a meaningful and grammatical sentence, but then it would mean something like:

- Compared to the words that I could have used to convey my meaning, these words were vague.

So this sentence does not mean that the vagueness stopped the words from conveying the meaning. This sentence has a completely different meaning from the Original Poster's first sentence. It is also an unlikely reading. It is almost definitely not what the Original Poster wants to say.

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 25 536

I'm struggling to grasp how you parse the infinitival to derive the sense "compared to the words that normally convey my meaning". Even the EModE X to Y = X compared to Y ("Hyperion to a satyr!") requires that X and Y both be nominals. The only grammatical parsing I can see would take it to be an infinitival of purpose, and that would be semantically contradictory. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-01-13T16:59:27.847

1As for It seems my words were vague to convey my meaning, I would paraphrase it like this: In order to convey my meaning, I used vague words. Of course, that seems like a contradiction, which I think is everyone's point. – J.R. – 2017-01-14T00:01:20.810

@StoneyB I was thinking along the lines of "He's very young to be a soldier" . – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2017-01-14T14:07:37.070

Wow, that never occurred to me. Props+. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-01-14T15:31:18.290

@J.R. Perhaps see my comment to Stoney above, and his edit in his answer :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2017-01-14T20:42:38.003

4

Your rewrite is ungrammatical.

Syntactically, the infinitival verb phrase to convey my meaning does not modify vague by itself; it is a component of the construction too ADJ to VP and depends on too to be meaningful.

How vague were my words? They were too vague to convey my meaning.

ADDED:
Araucaria gives a possible parsing of ∅ vague to convey my meaning which would in fact make it grammatical and meaningful = approximately "My words are at best on the vague end of the spectrum of words which might conceivably convey my meaning". He's right—but this use is very unlikely to occur in this context, and I'm pretty sure it's not what you mean!

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 176 469

The other answers say the second sentence is yet grammatical, though they interpret it differently from each other. – Ahmad – 2017-01-13T16:44:49.260

1@Ahmad The other answer is correct. Your second version is grammatical, but would indicate something slightly different, and in most contexts would not make sense. – Harris – 2017-01-13T16:47:59.013

@Ahmad -- see my addition. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-01-14T15:38:30.470

3

It seems my words were too vague to convey my meaning.

It seems my words were vague to convey my meaning.

Grammatically, both the sentences are correct though the latter is nonsensical.

The word "too" as an adverb suggests an excessive or undesirable amount. When used in this senese in the construction too + adjective + to infinitive, we are saying that a particular result doesn't or cannot happen.

So the first sentence means that "It seems that my words were so vague that they didn't convey my meaning".

As for the second sentence, you can use an adjective + to infinitive to convey your opinion or a reason. So the second sentence means "It seems that my words were vague because they conveyed my meaning", which doesn't make sense. However, you can say:

It seems that my words were clear enough to convey my meaning (= It seems that my words were clear because they conveyed my meaning).

Ad for alternatives to your first sentence, you can say:

It seems my words were so vague that they didn't connvey my meaning.

It seems my words were not clear enough to convey my meaning.

Khan

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 26 261

Interesting interpretation. However the other answers have opposite interpretation for the second sentence. It also seems you may need "clear enough to convey my meaning". Not? – Ahmad – 2017-01-13T16:42:03.207

1@Ahmad, As an alternatives to your first sentence, you can say "my words were not clear to convey my meaning" or "my words were so vague that they didn't convey my meaning". – Khan – 2017-01-13T16:59:11.787

If I heard "my words were clear to convey my meaning" I would immediately assume that the speaker was non-native. – Tin Wizard – 2017-01-13T19:02:42.243

@walt how about "clear enough to convey my meaning"? – Ahmad – 2017-01-13T19:44:28.873

@Ahmad That's perfect and much more natural to my ear. – Tin Wizard – 2017-01-13T21:04:36.283

2

It seems my words were too vague to convey my meaning.

You need to explain or qualify the use of the word vague. You could say: My meaning was vague. I prefer too vague because it better explains what you are saying and my example is not better at all, just grammatically correct.

It seems my words were too vague to convey my meaning. This is a better sentence.

ON EDIT: The definition of the word vague is:not clearly stated, described, or explained, or not clearly seen or felt: or (the google definition): of uncertain, indefinite, or unclear character or meaning.

So you are already saying that the meaning is unclear by using the word vague. This is why the word too works. It enhances the use of the word to make it more explanatory.

WRX

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 4 604

2

Let's consider the sentences without the deictic too in terms of cause and effect.

The coach's tone was harsh to convey his displeasure.

She was happy to hear her name called.

How can we distinguish between the two infinitival complements, the first expressing purpose, the second expressing cause? (The coach's purpose, in using a harsh tone, was to express his displeasure. The cause of her happiness was that she heard her name called.) We look at the verb (hear, convey) and we have to examine the adjective that licenses the infinitival and determine whether it can be purposeful. It is something intentional? Can it be a result?

When we see a sentence like

His words were vague to reveal his meaning.

His words were vague to conceal his meaning.

how can we know whether the infinitival complement refers to a purpose or to a cause? Again, we look at the adjective and ask whether it can cause the infinitival or result from the infinitival.

Can we be vague in order to reveal our meaning? No. Can we be vague in order to conceal our meaning? Yes. Can revealing or concealing our meaning cause us to be vague? No.

Tᴚoɯɐuo

Posted 2017-01-13T13:59:48.487

Reputation: 116 610

I like your example using conceal in place of reveal – now that's a sentence that would make sense. – J.R. – 2017-01-14T00:03:24.247